Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Lovely Day For a Pint at Puck

We found a great Irish pub named after one of the oldest street fairs in Ireland. Puck Fair has an impressive beer menu and included a pretty large array of winter drinks, from which we tried their Smuttynose Winter Ale (great name) and Sixpoint Otis. It's always necessary to try seasonal beers but we always come back to pure satisfaction with a fine pint of Guinness. The Guinness at Puck Fair was like ointment for our blisters from the cold winter's night.

Their food menu has what good bar menu should have - a mix of light fares and heartier fares - and included burgers, curry fries, sausage rolls, Guinness battered fish and chips, seafood braised Irish Stew, Irish farmhouse cheese plate, Irish bangers & mash, seafood chowder, and a full Irish breakfast.

We tried their three-item "toastie" - a sandwich consisting of pate, sausage, and cheese for $8 and it was one of the best bar sandwiches I've ever tasted. It sounds like a weird combination and actually, I thought the three different elements would come out separately but the combo worked! I love when you make weird sandwich combinations by accident that you fall in love with. Their mashed potatoes and gravy was excellent (even better that the waitress didn't charge us for it because it came just a tad bit late - nice!). They serve their food daily until 3:30 AM (their bar closes at 4:00 AM).

We sat at their small, dark area on the balcony in the back overlooking the entire bar space below. It was an intimate, cozy drinking spot. The main bar below stretches almost the entire length of the pub, and the other table areas are divided by wood panels that give the patrons a bit of privacy. The wall has a collage-like mural of schoolchildren, rugby, and song lyrics. Just a few steps closer to Ireland . . .

Friday, December 26, 2008

An Xmas Dream Come True

We learned two things yesterday: 1) Half of New York is at Rockefeller Center on Christmas Day and 2) When you're ice skating at Rockefeller Center with half of New York watching, you just don't care. We finally went ice skating yesterday, on Christmas day, at Rockefeller Center!

We tried to go in November but got ice fright with all the onlookers, and we've been trying to go during this Christmas season but it's been too crowded. Since this is our first Christmas here, we foolishly assumed that people would be at home with their families and so we thought the ice rink would be empty. We were way off. There were thousands of people at Rockefeller on Christmas day (think the Macy's Thanksgiving parade crowd mayhem). Even the stores in that area were open.

But we had to do it. We were not about to let the crowd and long lines deter us. Our goal was to go ice skating there one time beneath the beauty of the Christmas tree, and we were determined to accomplish this goal. We stood in line for about two hours. The worst part of standing in line for that long was the cold - your face, your toes, and your fingers get numb. Then finally, the ice skaters from the previous group were told to get off the ice. The ice was clear. Then people started clapping and cheering because there was a proposal on ice - just the two of them on the ice, to his specially selected song of "kiss me," with all of us staring. Once the newly engaged couple skated off the ice, the ice was cleaned, and it was finally our turn.

Each group gets one hour and 30 minutes on the ice and if you get allowed on the ice with only 20 minutes left from that set, that's all you get. Luckily for us, we had the whole one hour and 30 minutes. It was amazing! It was so beautiful to skate as it got dark. We skated our butts off with Prometheus and thousands of people watching, and with Christmas music blaring (unfortunately they didn't play "Christmas Time is Here" from A Charlie Brown Christmas album) . The workers were great - each time someone fell, they quickly skated over to the person to help them up and see if they were o.k. They even happily obliged in taking photos for the skaters. We love that they allowed picture taking on ice (unlike Wollman).

The rink itself is not very large (especially in comparison to Wollman Rink) and it was so crowded that it was a bit nerve wrecking to skate. We weren't scared of falling down ourselves, we were scared of getting knocked down like bowling pins from the other people falling down. There were also some kids that were dangerously speed skating. And of course there were a handful of the Olympic skating types spinning and triple lutzing away. It was so incredible skating there on Christmas day that we really forgot there were so many people watching us skaters. They seemed to fade away with the darkness of the night. Well, until I started to do my goofy dance and was quickly reminded that people were watching and taking photos.

It was a Christmas we will never forget. We felt blessed that we had such a special Christmas. The only part of the night that we could have done without was trying to walk back to our subway stop. The streets were so crowded all the way through fifth avenue, including those trying to make their way to Saint Patrick's Cathedral and to Saks Fifth to watch the Christmas window displays, that we were literally stuck in a mob of people.

We hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Window Browsing at Bergdorf

Bergdorf Goodman's 2008 Holiday Window Displays on 58th Street are truly astounding. Each window display is an intricate, whimsical work of fairy tale art (a couture designer's version of a fairy tale). This is definitely our first time seeing department store window displays of this nature. Looking at the window displays were far more enjoyable than wandering inside Bergdorf surrounded by society dames wearing fur and dripping in diamonds (that probably cost more than most people's yearly salaries) and snooty sales people that apparently only greet customers wearing sparkles and European labels. Thoughts of recession were probably not on the minds of the Bergdorf shoppers. We were only able to take a few photos but just look at the details.

Every year Bergdorf tries to out-do their previous year's holidays displays and are highly anticipated. This year's amazing works by David Hoey and his window design team are going to be pretty hard to top. We read that Hoey and his team drew inspiration for this year's theme of year-round journey with seasonal muses in ethereal white-on-white schemes from the dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History.

The window displays include haute couture and antiques.

The design team might have been channeling some creative energy from Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris for this window; it reminded us of the "Tonight, Tonight" video.

We weren't able to see them all so we'll have to go back to see them in its entirety, including those of the men's department across the street. In the meantime, we were able to find some of the other window displays we haven't seen yet online here. Here's some of our favorites, including this great scene of playing chess with an owl on the edge of a snowy cliff.

Closeup of Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Window on 58th Street

The great thing about these window displays is that they're free works of art for the rest of us to enjoy and appreciate - for those that can't afford or don't necessarily want to enter the world of Bergdorf's society on the other side of these windows.

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Window Closeup

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Window Display

Bergdorf Goodman Holiday Window Closeup

Closeup of Seasons Greetings Window Display on 57th Street

It's interesting that a store like this had such humble beginnings - from a small tailor shop opened by an immigrant to this grandiose store at the site of the Vanderbilt mansion.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

First Week of Snow

Christmas season in New York City is just as we had always imagined it would be - beautiful and festive. Henry David Thoreau said "live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit." We have been doing just that. This week was our first week of snow here. Last month my co-workers told me that it normally doesn't snow in NYC during Christmas time and so they were amazed when I got my Christmas wish of snow!

Central park covered in snow in the distance looks beautiful and spooky; like a forest scene in a fairy tale.

The union square holiday shops tents.

We definitely need snow boots to walk around. The streets are so slippery it's like ice skating on them.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Best Pancake for Grown Up Kids

The competition for brunch customers in this city is fierce. New Yorkers know how to do brunch like no one's business and restaurants have to do their best to please the palettes of people that have tasted the finest. Sarabeth's is a fine example of a restaurant that's here to please. Sarabeth's is well known in this city and highly regarded, which is why there is always a long line on weekends for their famous brunches. We were finally able to eat brunch there - when we went at 3:52 PM (we just made it by 10 minutes). This is their Central Park South location where we went (and if you end up at this location, you will be in the company of some expensive- looking people, but we hardly noticed them because we were all about the food).

Wow! Wow! And Wow! This is THE BEST PANCAKE we have ever tasted in our lives. This is Sarabeth's Lemon and Ricotta Pancake. I'm sure we'll try many more pancakes during our time here, but we cannot imagine finding one that will top this one. Everything about this pancake was perfect. The lemon and ricotta gave this pancake its unique yet delicately sweet flavor. The lemon flavor really made this one to always remember. The ricotta provided the nice moisture. The fluffiness was just dreamy. There was also this wonderfully weird aftertaste too - it was that of Fruit Loops. Strange, but true. So even when you weren't eating this incredible thing, your taste buds were aroused by the Fruit Loops flavors. You felt like a kid again, but a kid wearing your mom's pearls and your dad's suit. Life can be sweet.

Again, another super French Toast. What is it with this city and French Toast? It's like there's a weird culinary competition in NYC where people are trying to outdo each other with French Toast. This almond crusted French Toast with strawberry and raspberry sauce was incredible. If the pancake didn't ruin us, we'd be raving much more about this.

Both dishes were served with Doerfler Farms maple syrup, which wasn't as sweet as other traditional syrups but paired nicely with the already sweet dishes. Their house coffee and hot chocolate were also splendid. I mean, look at their brunch menu - is it not drool-worthy? What should we try next? Their Apple-Cinnamon French Toast? Their Cheese Blintzes? The Pumpkin Waffle? Their Farmer's Omelette with leeks, ham, chunks of potato with gruyere (which we learned was the best cheese to go in an omelette)? The only thing that sounds really scary on their brunch menu is The Holy Mole (hot chocolate, absolut peppar, amaretto, and cayenne) - that sounds like a diarrhea aftermath waiting to happen.

Perhaps our next Sarabeth's journey will be to their Sarabeth's bakery in the Chelsea Market (where they sell preserves, cookies, and cakes) and order their Jennifer's Dream Omelete (with cheddar cheese and legendary apple butter). Cheese and butter - definitely Jennifer's dream come true.

Monday, December 15, 2008

72-Foot Xmas Tree and Long Lines

This year's Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is a 72-foot Norway spruce from Hamilton Township, NJ. Mary Kremper, an immigrant from Hungary, and her husband planted the spruce in 1931 and she predicted her tree would someday make it to Rockefeller Center for Christmas. Although she's not alive to see her prediction come true, her twin 74-year-old sons proudly watched the 8-ton tree being cut down from their yard then loaded onto a semi-trailer from their home.

What happens to these trees after Christmas?

We'll need to go back to take night-time photos when the lights are more prominent.

We still haven't had a chance to skate at Rockefeller Center. Now that it's Christmas season, it's horribly crowded. We tried and failed to go on Sunday night hoping to skate from 11 PM to midnight. We did, however, get to witness a marriage proposal on the ice - all the other ice skaters and onlookers were cheering and aaaaawing after she appeared to say "yes." It was a very romantic, innocent and beautiful moment during these cynical times. There must have been hundreds of marriage proposals that took place during the Christmas holidays at this ice rink; they even offer a package called Engagement on Ice.

So we didn't get to go ice skating this weekend (and didn't get our Magnolia cupcake thanks to another monstrous line), but we finally did a horse carriage ride through Central Park. I think the first time I wanted to do this was as a little girl when I watched Six Weeks. It's something we wanted to do just one time while here. The best part of the ride oddly wasn't going through Central Park, it was the short ride on the streets of Midtown among the flood of Taxis.

It was freezing cold and the amount of people trying to get their turn on a short 20-min horse carriage ride was insane. It looked like long lines but they weren't really lines; there was no organization whatsoever and people who were waiting for one hour probably got bypassed by the person who was only waiting for 10 minutes. People were hailing the horse carriages like they were hailing cabs, but this was funnier because people were flashing their $100 bills so the carriage guys would stop in front of them. After we waited in one long non-line, we went up a block and tried our luck in another long non-line. Luckily, I made eye contact with a nice carriage man who stopped in front of us (it also helped that there was only two of us). There were a lot of angry people. Our carriage guy told us that it's only crazy like this during Christmas time because after January, they're the ones begging people to take a ride. With all this said, I probably would never do this carriage ride ever again.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Cracking Up

Last night we went to Comix, a comedy club near our home, to see David Allen Grier. This comedy club has a no flash photo policy, so somewhere in that bright glow is Grier. He did a raunchy set about crapping, drugs, sex, marriage and divorce, Barak Obama, and the woes of being the old guy at the club. He even serenaded a birthday lady on stage (great vocals), and oh yes he flashed his huge pot belly and ass crack to us. There were two comedians that opened for him, Rory Albanese and Drew Fraser. Drew Fraser was so funny we were crying and peeing (and in many ways he was funnier than Grier). We almost didn't notice that David Allen Grier walked right by us to sit with the audience and watch Drew Fraser's stand up performance.

Like many talented comedians, the man David Allen Grier portrays on stage is supposedly very different from the man off stage. He's a Yale School of Drama graduate that was trained in Shakespeare and began his professional career on Broadway. But when we hear his name we love him for his performance on In Living Color. He's now on Comedy Central with Chocolate News, a fake news series that offers a black perspective on headlines by spoofing just about everything.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Heavy Metal

This Bryant Park Holiday Shop caught our attention because from a distance these looked like suits of armor. Metal Park created these cool Star Wars art from recycled scrap metal, engine and motorcycle parts. We didn't know how much these cost but considering they're selling an 8-feet-tall, 800-pound Darth Metal on their website for $7,000, these are probably in that price range.

Some of the parts were movable and some were more than decorative - they could be used as small storage containers and pen holders. Naturally, my friend Marie came to mind.

We really liked this chained out Yoda-gone-Mad-Max. Buy, we wanted. Expensive, it was.

They even had Short Circuit and the Predator. On their website, they sell the Terminator, Alien, Transformer, the classic robot, and a samurai warrior.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Yesterday we went to the Holiday Shops at Bryant Park (open from Nov 22 to Dec 28). These 120+ shops from around the world were housed in temporary, small glass stores and thankfully they all had heating lamps, because it was FREEZING this weekend. Frozen toes, fingers, and lips were worth this view:

We also wanted to go ice skating at Bryant Park's The Pond, the park's winter wonderland centerpiece. But it was massively crowded (its New York's only free admission seasonal ice skating rink, although you still have to pay to rent skates if you don't have your own).

There's even a view of the Empire State Building in the distance.

We really wanted to get on the ice but The Pond's line was ridiculous - probably about a two-hour (or more) wait in the biting cold. This photo only shows half of the line. Hopefully we'll get to go before The Pond closes for the season on January 25, 2009.

How great would it be to have the ice rink to ourselves. If we dared to be mischievous souls and skated while the ice was being cleaned.

Bryant Park even set up a temporary lounge/bar right next to the ice skating rink for the winter season. Celsius: A Canadian Lounge, housed in a temporary glass structure, overlooks The Pond and offers drinks, lunch, and dinner. The decor of the upstairs part of Celsius, which even has chandeliers, makes it look like a swanky night club. We probably should have taken the photo from the other side that shows the full-service bar and the second floor area (again, just weird because this is something that probably will get torn down by February). This is their outdoor terrace, with heating lamps dispersed throughout.

And did we mention how freakin clean Bryant Park is? Even their public restroom is clean, which is far from the case in almost all park restrooms. There was an usher handling the flow of traffic in the women's room by using a velvet rope at the entrance, like she was a bouncer at a nightclub. The most impressive thing was their toilet seat covers - you don't have to mess around with those annoying thin toilet seat covers that don't do crap to absorb the wet splashies on the toilet seat. At this restroom you just push a button and the toilet seat covers itself with a new hard plastic seat cover. Very appreciative of inventions that improve sanitation. More importantly, just easily amused.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

My Name is MUD

This is the MUDTruck parked in the East Village. We love that the company was started by a husband and wife team to be an anti-establishment coffee shop. We love that they purposely park across one of the busiest and largest Starbucks in the Village. We love that the coffee is served from an orange converted Con Edison truck with the American flag on it. It looks like along with coffee, they should be serving apple pies, a six pack of beer, anti-war stickers, and Jack Kerouac books. Don't know why but the truck evokes those images.

So we were excited to try the coffee, especially since we are not Starbucks fans. The coffee was voted the best in the city by almost everyone in this city. And it's affordable - $1.50 for a small cup. What's not to love? Well, then we tried the coffee. We were so disappointed because the coffee lived up to its name. It had a strong, bitter taste (same as its rival across the street). We're hoping we caught them on a bad day and we'll give them one more chance. The ironic thing is that for a anti-establishment company, they're getting pretty successful in the corporate world - we've spotted their coffee bags being sold for a hefty price at grocery stores and now apparently they're being sold at Kiehl's (the way Starbuck's is sold at Borders). I guess it's easy to forget that Starbuck's started out as a small company too.

Recession-Proof Pancakes and Eggs

We're in recession, we know we need to save money, but it is so difficult when we're surrounded by restaurants on all sides. What's a food lover to do? Seek out places like La Bonbonniere. La Bonbonniere is a small, crowded diner in the West Village on 8th Ave that sells no-frills grease food and BREAKFAST FOOD all day at reasonable prices. The diner food lineup includes the usual suspects like banana and blueberry pancakes, omelets, Challah French toast, burgers, sandwiches, sausages, bacon and eggs.

Despite the diner's out-of-character fancy name, La Bonbonniere is a casual diner. The diner itself looks a bit run down, which they attempt to enhance cosmetically with taped up photos of celebrities that eat there and articles about the restaurant. Apparently despite its worn down look and low-key setting, actors are often seen at this spot; Molly Shannon and Ethan Hawke are supposedly regulars.

Every time we walked by this diner, at all hours of the day, it was always crowded, which made us think "these New Yorkers are on to something" and we finally tried it. We went around 2:00 pm and it was still crowded. Not one open table. The seats here are elbow-to-elbow. It's nice to know that we're not the only freaks in this city that eat at non-standard hours of the day. Despite the crowd, we received our food lightning fast.

At last, our love, our breakfast food! We were perfectly happy with their banana pancakes. And their bacon was crisp and not greasy.

They did not skimp on the avocado. My avocado omelet came loaded with the healthy green fruit. Actually, this might have been the first time where there was more avocado than eggs in my omelet.

Whether folks are happy to be able to get breakfast for under $10 in the West Village neighborhood or they're hoping to share some maple syrup with a celeb, this place definitely has a following. We've just joined the ranks (for the food, of course; we have absolutely no interest in sitting next to a celeb, with the exception of Ms. Streep or Mr. Pacino, of course).

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Oooh La La

We discovered Zucco: Le French Diner on 188 Orchard Street while wandering around the Lower East Side. We haven't had French cuisine yet while in the city but we wanted to find a French restaurant that wasn't pretentious. We found THE perfect place. Le French Diner is a very tiny restaurant with good atmosphere, good music, good service, and good food. What it lacks in space it makes up for with its charm and character. Le French Diner looks like the kind of restaurant that Parisians that are anti-Champs-Elysees type of scene would dine at if it were in Paris. These photos stink but it was very dark in there.

The owner of the restaurant is a French man that goes by just one name "Zucco" (like Prince or Cher). He's an older man that looks like he used to be a biker or a drummer for a rock band, but has a soft-spoken mannerism. The only thing we heard him say all night was "merci." Zucco acted as our chef, our waiter, our host, and our busser. We saw only two other workers that were washing dishes and helping with some cooking.

Everything at this restaurant is petite and dark, including the bathroom. The bathroom was only lit by Jesus candles and you feel like you either needed to say confession in there or you suddenly felt transported to that scene in the 1976 prom horror flick Carrie when her crazy mother locks her up in that tiny room.

Their mini kitchen is right behind the bar that seats six or so people. There’s about four sets of two-seater tables and they are all really close to each other. This is not a place to have private conversations. With just a few tables and a no reservation policy, the best chance of getting a table is to arrive by 6:30 PM.

Their drink menu consists of French beer and wine. The wine is served in petite glasses from Paris (at $5 a glass). Their Bordeaux was excellent.

Their menu is classic French with lots of cheese, butter, and bread, and ranges from the very simple (cheese and cold cut platters) to more elegant dishes. Some of his menu items include: homemade foie gras with apple compote and toast; smoked herring with warm potato salad; snails; lamb sausages; bacon and cheese pie; risotto with Arborio rice, truffle oil and cheese; tagliatelle with bacon, ham, cream sauce and poached egg; Le Croque Monsieur; and grilled filet mignon burger. He also has a simple French brunch menu, desserts, and an array of espressos and cappucinos.

Zucco's Le Saumon Grille in creamy sorrel sauce served with mixed vegetables was very rich. Lots of butter and cream. The salmon was cooked perfectly.

The Le Pate Beurre Cornichon (pate, butter cornichon on a soft baguette), served with French fries. There is no ketchup at this restaurant. I was a bit saddened by this at first. But Zucco squeezed a ton of spicy mustard on the edge of my plate that surprisingly went well with the fries.

The only thing that could have made our experience here potentially disastrous was if we didn't have enough cash. We weren't told until we were handed our bill that the restaurant only accepts AMEX or cash. We can't wait to go back!